War Requiem


Britten War Requiem. Recorded 2012 at Coventry Cathedral. Features soprano Erin Wall, tenor Mark Padmore, and baritone Hanno Muller-Brachmann. Andris Nelsons conducts the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Chorus and Youth Chorus. Directed for TV by Ute Feudel. Released 2012. The information on the back of the package says that the surround sound is Dolby Digital. Wonk James Kreh reports this is incorrect; the disc in fact has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound.  Probably the art department at Arthaus Musik copied the mistaken informaton from the DVD version of this production, which does use 5.1 Dolby Digital. Kreh also reports that the music was recorded at 48kHz24 bit. Grade: A+

Here's a report from wonk Gordon Smith, a British subject who is very familiar with Britten's music:   2012 saw the 50th anniversary of the premiere of Benjamin Britten‘s  War Requiem, one of the most powerful pacifist statements in music and one of the greatest works to be composed in the 20th century.

The first performance took place in 1962 in the newly consecrated Coventry Cathedral, built alongside the ruins of the bombed cathedral. On 30 May 2012, 50 years to the day, Britten‘s masterpiece was once again performed in the cathedral by the same orchestra and with vocal soloists from the three once-warring nations.

This work had a profound impact when recently viewed by the L'Opera Dou Jury. Only two (British) members had ever heard it before. For everyone else it was a real discovery. The privileged audience attending that historic performance in Coventry Cathedral remained silent for more than a minute and a half after the musicians and singers had finished playing before starting to applaud. The Jury was equally moved and observed the same silence.

Here are some comments from the Jury:

"Wonderful atmosphere. The history of the cathedral permeated the music and made it come to life in a very visual way. I particularly loved the interaction of the tenor and baritone duets. Fantastic soprano singing from Erin Wall.

"Marvellous voices and players— every part breathing together with one heart and soul. Everyone seemed to be bonded in a common spirit of reverence and sincerity… 

"Extraordinary orchestration and beautiful interpretation from everyone — particularly the soloists. I was very struck by the passion and inspiration everyone showed…  Very intense and moving with some really poignant silences that said so much… It was wonderful to see the close-ups of the conductor and see how his profound involvement with the music was expressed on his face…"

Wonk James Kreh, also a Britten fan, further reports:  I found this concert to be an absolutely superb production in every respect, and fully agree with the Jury's comments. The sound is extraordinary in dynamic range, impact, and fidelity. The video coverage is creative and always interesting, with a segment of truly exceptional poignancy beginning at 1:22:50. This recording is unquestionably deserving of an A+ in my opinion, and is a mandatory library acquisition for anyone who appreciates the War Requiem.

So we have 2 wonks recommending an "A+" grade, and nothing has been said about the lack of 96kHz/24-bit sound sampling or possible "DVDitis" in the video content. This recording was made in the ad hoc venue of Coventry Cathedral and was (I assume)  performed one time only. It was as much an event as a concert. Under these circumstances, we are lucky to have anything. It's not realistic to expect audiophile-level sound recording in the field at a church. Also, this is unusual and challenging modern music (I recently saw the War Requiem performed live by the Dallas Symphony and they used in part two conductors leading simultaneously differenct forces on the stage). Both Gordon and James know about our warpath against DVDitis, so we accept their unqualified endorsement of this title.

There are many clips of this on YouTube, including the entire requiem as shown on TV, but everything is in SD.